MODI’S 100 DAYS: NOT AS CELEBRATORY?

Narendra Modi’s 100 days in office have not been as celebratory an occasion as the prime minister and the BJP may have wished.

For a start, the setbacks suffered by the party in the recent by-elections in Bihar, Karnataka and elsewhere are a sign that the wave which swept the BJP to power with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha has ebbed.

The party may still win the forthcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and even in Jammu and Kashmir, but the by-election reverses have shown that Modi is vulnerable to a determined challenge by a combined opposition.

This weakness of his was revealed in the general election as well when the much-hyped Modi wave made no impact in states like Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal. Evidently, strong regional entities are able to beat back the challenger from Gujarat.

This durability of a local force was again demonstrated in Bihar where the unlikely combination of two recent adversaries – Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) – showed that it could successfully stand up to the BJP.

If these ups and downs are seen as an integral feature of democratic politics about which the BJP need not bother too much, the rift at the top between Home Minister Rajnath Singh and an unnamed senior minister has shown that divisions in the party are not only between Modi and the old guard, but exist at over levels as well.

Apart from the electoral setbacks and the dissonance in the government, there is a third reason why the completion of 100 days is unlikely to be marked by the distribution of sweets and the bursting of crackers. It is the belief that Modi hasn’t been able to introduce the change in governing style which he had promised.

True, there have been promises aplenty – bullet trains, e-governance, smart cities, the cleansing of the Ganga, toilets in schools and for women. But, little is as yet noticeable on the ground, except for the opening of bank accounts for the poor which may well be another way of providing subsidies .

The mood might have been less cynical if there were visible signs of developmental activity like the construction of roads and bridges and the identification of special economic zones.

Or, if the government was seen to be advancing rapidly towards amending the labour and land acquisition laws, privatizing loss-making public sector units, introducing the goods and services tax, cutting subsidies and facilitating the flow of foreign funds instead of succumbing to opposition pressure by sending to a parliamentary committee the bill on raising the cap on foreign investment in the insurance sector.

If former finance minister P.Chidambaram had regretted the Manmohan Singh government’s mistake of taking the foot off the accelerator of reforms in its concluding years, it can be argued that the present government is yet to press down hard on the accelerator.

Just as the previous government was susceptible to Sonia Gandhi’s anti-reforms outlook, the Modi government, too, is seemingly unable to stave off the demands of the various pressure groups functioning under the aegis of the RSS which are status quoists.

Hence, the stalling of the field trials on genetically modified crops although the environment minister Prakash Javadekar says that science cannot be ignored. The value of allowing the field trials is that it will send a message to outfits like the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the workers’ and farmers’ wings of the RSS-led Sangh parivar, that the government will follow its own agenda and not bow down to pressure.

If it does so, then the opposition to the amendment of the labour and land acquisition laws will become more muted and the growth rate will climb even higher than the present 5.7 per cent. Otherwise, the bitter medicine, which Modi had said at the time of taking charge would have to be given to the country, would remain in the pharmacies.

The absence of big-bang reforms is not the only reason why the perception of the government as an agent of change has diminished. There has also been a sense of disquiet about the inflammatory statements being made by some in the Hindutva camp since they carry the danger of raising the communal temperature.

These comments include the insistence of people like the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, and others that India is a “Hindu nation” and that all Indians are Hindus in the cultural sense. Moreover, by allowing a known provocateur like Yogi Adityanath to open the debate for the BJP in the Lok Sabha on the tense communal situation in U.P., the party has shown that it has no intention of following a line of moderation in this matter.

The leeway given to these virtual hate-mongers is surprising since Modi had called for a 10-year moratorium on sectarian violence in his Independence Day speech. As if in response to this appeal, the RSS has decided to freeze the issue of building the Ram temple for a year.

Yet, if there is an understanding at the higher levels of the saffron brotherhood on showing some restraint, the yogi from Gorakhpur does not seem to be aware of it. If the BJP is not playing both sides, then it is taking a grave risk which can derail Modi’s development agenda.